Employees said they and their colleagues are not informed in a timely manner – or not at all – of potential exposure to Covid-19 in the office. One of the three employees said it took up to a week for notifications to arrive, by which time news of the coronavirus case had long been spread by word of mouth.
The three employees are among approximately 2,200 people working at the Long Island City headquarters, known internally as Gotham. All three have asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals; their employment with the agency has been independently verified by Crain’s.
â€œYou are in a constant state of panic,â€ said one employee.
Another employee said he discovered positive cases in the office only from the City Workers for Justice Instagram account, which posted anonymous stories of Covid-19 cases at work.
The seven-day average for new Covid-19 cases in the city approached a “staggering” 11,000 on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, but he has so far refused to reinstate the option of Telecommuting in the era of the pandemic that was available to city employees on at least part-time basis until September. There were limited exceptions.
City hall officials called the group of city workers demanding a remote minority option.
â€œWe brought people back full time, and they said the sky was going to fall, and the sky didn’t fall, and it’s not going to fall this time either,â€ de Blasio said Wednesday.
In response to employee concerns about inadequate exposure notifications, Health Department officials said they are educating employees in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which define close contact as less than 6 feet of a person for 15 minutes or more for 24 hours. period.
“The Department of Health is committed to being transparent and keeping New Yorkers and staff informed,” agency spokesman Michael Lanza said in response to a detailed list of employee concerns.
â€œThe positivity rates among Ministry of Health employees are lower than the citywide rates,â€ Lanza added.
Employees in the health department who test positive for the virus are advised to notify their supervisor, who reports the case to the human resources department with the information necessary for contact tracing. An employee said the multi-step process could be partly responsible for the delay in exposure notifications.
Employees who spoke to Crain’s said the agency should adopt a broader standard for issuing exposure notifications, such as notifying everyone on the same floor as someone who tests positive. They noted that the Long Island City office building has an open floor plan and its windows are sealed, so they cannot be opened for ventilation.
In response, the Department of Health said it had installed more than 500 Austin Air HealthMate purifiers in all of its facilities and increased ventilation at headquarters.
A rapid test site for Health Ministry employees opened inside the headquarters on Monday, but it is only expected to operate until December 30. The three employees who spoke with Crain’s requested additional testing resources as long as they need to show up at the office.
One of the employees who spoke with Crain’s said the mayor’s dismissal of their concerns was a “gas light” and said the lack of flexibility was causing the health department to lose talent to employers who allow remote working. Another said employees who were immunocompromised or living with disabilities found it difficult to get agency accommodations to work remotely, even with a doctor’s note.
â€œAt every town hall, at every meeting we have, there is a question about remote work; several people will ask, â€said one employee. â€œThis is the main demand. “
New York State’s teleworking law would permanently allow a remote work option for all city employees, but the bill must be passed by the legislature. Advocates include municipal justice workers.
Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, the city’s largest public sector workers union, released a statement on Thursday pushing again for a telework policy: â€œWe asked for one in September, and we have one. claim one again today.
Health ministry employees said they hoped the incoming city administration would change course and allow more flexibility. A spokesperson for mayor-elect Eric Adams did not respond at the time of publication to a request for comment on Adams’ position.
“There is this irony that we work for the Department of Health,” said one of the three workers, “but the Department of Health doesn’t even look after the health of its own employees.”